Dear Ms. Crowley:
I’ve watched you much of your career, and I have not always agreed with you, but I always took you seriously. I am very troubled by the way you and your network reacted to the juvenile convictions of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond in a sexual assault trial in Steubenville, Ohio yesterday. It might seem overly harsh to say that things like this happen because of reactions like yours. It may seem overly harsh, but it is sadly true. You would do well do develop an understanding of this.
Obviously you didn’t make Richmond or Mays sexually penetrate that teenage girl, and you didn’t make Mays take pictures of her. You didn’t raise them, you didn’t coach them, and you didn’t follow them from party to party that night last August. But you did far more to shape the culture they grew up in than most of us non-celebrities. Yours is a household name; you speak with the voice of authority in people’s living rooms, and what you say about these juvenile offenders, after their conviction at trial, shapes how teen boys and parents and school administrators and the whole culture interpret what happened. You called it a tragedy, but you came within a whisker of calling it a travesty, and by doing that, you’re part of the problem.
We know a lot more about rapists than we did twenty years ago. Particularly because of the research of David Lisak at the University of Massachusetts, and of Stephanie McWhorter, who studied Navy entrants, what we know now is that a lot of sexual assaults are committed by a very few men, that those men do it again and again, and that they are responsible for lots of other violent and antisocial conduct.
How could a society let these people operate? If maybe one in twenty or twenty-five men is such a bad actor, such a repeat abuser, why don’t those men stand out, get excluded and shunned, suspended and expelled, arrested, incarcerated? Ms. Crowley, that’s where you come in. When the allegations that such men committed rape are first revealed, there is an endless supply of people to normalize and excuse what they did; to doubt that the victim says, and also to blame her own behavior for whatever happened to her (usually under the guise of “well-meaning” rape prevention advice.) When they are tried, CNN and other media outlets qualify every statement about their culpable conduct with words like “allegedly,” and while this is necessary for liability reasons it subtly but surely conveys the impression to the audience that CNN doesn’t believe her.
The justice system so rarely works in the victim’s favor. Rape is the least-reported major crime because rape victims fear for their own mental health if they submit to a process that interrogates every aspect of their conduct — and often their past — and leans so heavily on their credibility. When reported, their stories are often rejected as unprosecutable. When tried, jurors’ biases often result in acquittals that are facially unjustified. And sometimes, particularly with celebrities like Kobe Bryant, the victim’s name becomes widely known and death threats from fans literally force her to withdraw her complaint.
One might think that in the case of a gang assault, the victim might face less headwind. Not so! In the famous Glen Ridge case, the town rallied around the young football players who molested a mentally disabled girl, and though the first case ended in conviction, the process was so traumatic for her that the second trial was cancelled and Richard Corcoran walked free — only to kill himself and another soldier years later in a domestic violence incident at Fort Bragg, just as we might predict from Dr. Lisak’s research. In the Haidl gang rape in Corona Del Mar in California, there was a lengthy video of the assault on a girl who was absolutely unconscious and nonresponsive, yet the first trial resulted in a hung jury due to the defense’s full-court press on the victim’s credibility — which is to say they set out to prove that she was a bad girl, and it worked, at least the first time.
When, as in Steubenville, the justice system works and puts the rapists behind bars, I understand that you may feel that balance requires you to say something about the convicted juveniles’ side. But if it was balance you were after, you would also have said something about the victim’s side: she found out what they did to her when it became public information on social media. Witness testimony demonstrated that she was stumbling, slurring her words, at times completely nonresponsive, and throwing up, including on herself. When she learned what had happened, she also learned that she had been turned into an object of public mockery on social media. She was publicly defamed in her community. How did it feel to be her? How did it feel for her to finally hear, after six months of living with this, that the State of Ohio declared that what was done to her was wrong, was a criminal act, and that those who did it deserved to be in juvenile detention as sex offenders? How did it feel to be vindicated?
Ms. Crowley, you lamented the lost futures of these young men. But did you say a word for the future of this girl? CNN isn’t identifying her, and I agree with that. But the limitations on discussing the details of her life surely don’t keep you from talking to viewers about how the sixteen year old victim of a very public sexual assault and a very public trial goes forward. Where does she go from here? Does this close a chapter for her, or will she need to watch the continuing grand jury proceedings, follow the inevitable appeals?
You didn’t say a word about her. As far as your viewers know, you don’t see her as a person at all, just a cypher, some theoretical construct that these boys did those things to. If you humanize the boys and not the girl, if you feel for the boys and not the girl, what does that tell the viewers?
What does it tell the parents of the next girl who dumps vodka into slushed ice and heads out to a high school party? There were many last weekend and there will be many this weekend, and no amount of warning them will entirely change that. If you didn’t drink to get drunk in high school, you had friends who did, and so did we all. That’s not an offense deserving of rape. That’s not behavior that causes rape. If this girl got staggering, vomiting drunk with a different group of people — say, with the boy I hope my son grows up to be — she would have found herself delivered to her parents’ door with a blanket over the vomit-stained shirt. “Mr. Doe, I’m sorry to wake you, but your daughter had quite a bit to drink and passed out at the party, and the folks she came with were not taking care of her, so we brought her home. We couldn’t find her phone …” Isn’t that what we expect of our young men? The reason that, instead of a ride home, she got sexually assaulted, filmed and mocked was because the people around her failed a basic test of moral fiber. The bystanders failed to intervene, and the peripheral participants failed to walk away, and Mays and Richmond failed even the baseline legal tests. They sexually penetrated a girl who was so inebriated that she didn’t understand or participate in what they were doing to her.
What you told that next girl and her parents is that even if what happened to their daughter is a crime, even if it is prosecuted and proved, you’re still on the side of the rapists.
What you told the next young bystanders at the next party is that the rapists are not really doing anything wrong by molesting the drunk girl, nothing repugnant, nothing reprehensible, nothing shocking. You could have told CNN’s viewership that what Mays and Richmond did was disturbing, or upsetting, or wrong, but you didn’t. Instead, you implied that it is normal, understandable, and that the real tragedy is that they are being punished for it.
What you told the next Mays and the next Richmond is that, in the unlikely event that they are reported and arrested and the coach doesn’t succeed in covering it up (as Mays evidently expected Coach Reno Saccoccia would here), and the prosecution results in a conviction, you’ll still be on their side. You see, Mays and Richmond thought, right up until the conviction and maybe even now, that it wasn’t a big deal and certainly wasn’t a grievous wrong they did.
Mays had his chance to say something. He could have apologized to the girl, and to his teammate who as Quarterback he might have offered some moral leadership, and to his team and his town who by his conduct he let down, to his parents who surely at least thought they raised him better. And to the girl. I know I already said that. Without compromising his appeal, he could have said that he looks back every day and wishes he had thrown a blanket over her and piled her into someone’s back seat for a ride back across the river to her home when it became clear she was too drunk to know what was happening to her. And he could have apologized to the girl. I know I already said that twice.
He didn’t say any of that, though. I have no reason to believe he thinks any of that. For all we know, what he thought is that girls like her don’t matter, and if it hadn’t been for national media attention this all would have gone away. It might have. It almost did.
Ms. Crowley, these boys have done nothing to deserve your sympathy except to be young and have promising futures, that through their own conduct they squandered. This girl has done nothing to deserve your dismissal except to drink to get drunk, like too many high school students do.
I believe that guys like Mays and Richmond are fairly set in their ways by the time they are in their late teens. If they are in Dr. Lisak’s and Dr. McWhorter’s group of repeat offenders, and I suspect they are, they won’t change. But the environment they operate in can. There were boys, some of them witnesses, and one of the infamous Nodianos video, who understood the moral wrong that happened. But they lacked the courage and numbers and the support they needed to make it stop. It shouldn’t have to be an extraordinary act of bravery to tell the rapists, “leave that girl alone, she has no idea where she is or what you’re doing to her!” Every person, every single person except a hardened serial rapist ought to do that, ought to do that together as a single voice, the voice of the community. And if they did, the rapists would have a very hard time operating. That it isn’t like that is a cultural battle we’re fighting every day. You need to think about that and decide which side you’re on.
Canadian sex educator Karen K.B. Chan created this video based on my essay Toward A Performance Model Of Sex from Yes Means Yes: Visions Of Women’s Sexual Power And A World Without Rape. She brings the idea of a collaborative and nonjudgmental way of looking at sex to life in such a vivid and accessible way.
This. This is terrific. Everyone should see this.
Jill Filipovic has a piece in The Guardian about Revenge Porn. She has a very personal perspective on this because she herself was a victim of a bunch of malicious anonyous misogynists on a law student and lawyer forum. It’s an important read, and nothing I have to say would add anything to it, at least within the bounds of the discussion as she frames it. But I do think that I can add something by situating the “revenge porn” genre within a larger universe of misogynist humiliation.
Once you’ve been face-to-genitals with someone, sending them a nude picture doesn’t seem like it should be such a big deal.
Society sees it differently – at least when the nude photo is of a woman. There aren’t popular revenge porn sites with pictures of naked men, because as a society we don’t think it’s inherently degrading or humiliating for men to have sex. Despite the fact that large numbers of women watch porn, there are apparently not large numbers of women who find sexual gratification in publicly shaming and demeaning men they’ve slept with.
And that is, fundamentally, what these revenge porn sites are about. They aren’t about naked girls; there are plenty of those who are on the internet consensually. It’s about hating women, taking enjoyment in seeing them violated, and harming them.
This is so true, and so not limited to revenge porn. It hasn’t been that long since the media was all in a stir about photos, taken from very long range by a very determined peeping tom, of the Dutchess of Cambridge topless. After that, there was an unfortunate photograph of Anne Hathaway, and Matt Lauer’s inability to restrain himself from commenting on it (and Hathaway’s wonderful response: “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants,” starting around 1:20 after the Les Mis clip). A few years ago there was the photo of Britney Spears getting out of a car with no underwear. And all the sex tapes. And the Vanessa Hudgens photos, where her lawyer says she was a minor. And so on.
In fact, there’s a whole industry, a whole subgenre of porn that is finding famous women just slightly more exposed than they wanted to be: nipple slips, car-exit crotch shots, et cetera. This isn’t a creature of the internet. Before the Internet, there was Celebrity Sleuth magazine. (I would guess it’s still around in some form, though I don’t care enough to go look.)
The paparazzi hunt celebrities and embarrass them when they can, not just women; but it’s different with women because there is the entire subtext of sexualized humiliation that seems only to apply to men when they’re with other men. (That last bit opens a can of worms; I can’t do justice to the analysis of gender expression and orientation and the way the leering “filthy sexxx!” attitude applies across less-normative gender expressions and sexual orientations, but broadly I think the mainstream uses it to police femininity more than femaleness … I would even say that the way the media treats more gender-conforming gay men in scandals is different from how they treat more gender-nonconforming gay men … as I say, longer conversation and one where I have to listen more than I talk.)
Zooming out even farther, the whole culture serves up the humiliation of women as indoor winter sport. The entire “Real Housewives” franchise is built around women being mean to each other; and many other reality TV shows (Dance Moms, I’m looking at you) could just as easily be subtitled “judge the bad woman.” It’s not all highly sexualized; some of it is “judge the bad mom” and some of it is “judge the bad housekeeper” and some of it is “judge the bad cride” but there’s a whole cultural edifice of holding women up to public judgement and criticism and dismissal. One might say that this happens to men also, but men are about 85% of the speaking roles in Hollywood movies, so the impact of the representation is different. A whole host of cultural product about judging women is a huge portion of all the representation women get, while a bit of judging men settles in in a quiet corner next to presidents and CEOs and leading roles that are not there for the primary purpose of being humiliated.
The sexualization of that is only one aspect, and revenge porn is only one tiny corner of that, but seeing it in context is important.
There’s another axis on which I want to contextualize revenge porn, and that’s the sexual assault axis. When my friends put up Anne Hathaway’s response to Matt Lauer on Facebook, my immediate remark was that I want to see Anne Hathaway naked when she wants me to see her naked. We have a relationship, Anne and me. Our relationship is artist-viewer. It can be, in part, a sexual relationship: to the extent we both consent. If I don’t want to see her engage in sexual performance, I’m free to not watch any movie or scene that makes me uncomfortable. And at least at her level of the business, she has a lot of freedom to choose what projects she’ll do and what scenes she’ll shoot. And so, both Anne and me are consenting adults, and we can have some good artist-viewer fun together if we want, and neither of us has to do anything we don’t want to do.
The whole culture of celebrity stalker sexualization is to do away with that consent: to make avialable the sexualized image of the famous woman to the viewer when she doesn’t agree to it, doesn’t want it, doesn’t like it. What was it Anne Hathaway said? “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants.” Sexualizing the unwilling, conceptually, is sexual assault. Always. We can bullshit and nitpick about that, but it’s just bullshit and nitpicking. We have a society with a tremendous tolerance for coercion and people can sit around thinking up all the times when it might be okay for someone to be sexualized against their will … I’m not going to dignify that exercise, whatever the law might be and whatever the policy arguments, we’re better off starting from the proposition that sexualizing the unwilling is always a sexual assault before we entertain questions of intent and mistake and exception.
Revenge porn is really just doing that to someone who isn’t famous, usually with the complicity of someone they trusted. The whole point is to humiliate, but not just to humiliate; to violate.
I’ll close this by thinking, as I often do, as a parent. If the culture tells my kids that it’s hot and exciting to violate a woman’s boundaries with a camera, what lesson will they take about violating a woman’s body with a body? MRA-types and other assholes who reflexively deny the existence of rape culture will go on shaking their heads no matter what is put before them, but for the rest of us, this isn’t hard to understand. The rapists are the minority, and people say their behavior is aberrant and abhorent, so how do they keep getting away with it? In a culture where violation of a woman’s boundaries in some ways is lauded and sought after, the attitudes the rapists have and the tactics they use just don’t seem that out of place. That’s the Social License to Operate.
Last Spring I wrote a series about rape and abuse in BDSM communities, titles There’s A War On. Here’s the start of the series. One thing I couldn’t do at that time was say how many people in BDSM communities experienced consent violations. Now I can.
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom did a survey this Fall on consent. Results are in. The survey got over 5000 respondents. It was broadly focused on people’s views of what constituted consent, and not experiences of violation, but there were two questions about experiences of violation. Here are those questions, and the responses:
“Have you ever had a pre-negotiated limit violated in a BDSM scene or relationship?” Of 4,115 respondents (1,552 missing):
“Have you ever negotiated a safeword or safesign with a partner who then ignored it during play?” Of 4,110 respondents:
Taking the two questions together, 33% of respondents that answered these questions answered yes to one, or the other or both. 33% of kinksters who responded reported that their consent was violated. More than 11% responded yes to both.
So … this is very, very bad. Of kinksters responding to this question, 30% had had a prenegotiated limit violated. Those numbers are even worse than victim self-reports of rape in the general population; which the New York Times reports as about 20% based on a study supported by the National Institute of Justice.
Communities ostensibly based on consent, with more consent violations than the general population.
It is interesting to note that the proportion of respondents reporting a violation of a prenegotiated limit is almost exactly twice as high as the proportion reporting a violation of a safeword. However, there is a lot of overlap because 11% answered yes to both. There are several possible hypotheses to explain this. Mine is that most of this is accounted for by people who violate consent being rational actors who are more willing to ignore a preset limit than a safeword, possibly because it’s easier to claim a misunderstanding arising from negotiation. The overlap between the safeword question and the limit question seems critical. The vast majority of those whose safeword was ignored also reported that their negotiated limit was ignored. This undermines a hypothesis of mistake for the majority of reports. Either these folks are reporting separate incidents, in which case the rates of violation are even higher than the rates of people violated; or they are reporting that in the incident where a safeword was ignored, the conduct also was against their stated limits, making mistake unlikely.
There are a lot of things to deal with in the NCSF survey, and more to say about consent violations. Among other things, crosstabs currently available don’t give a gender breakdown.
I’m seeing about getting one. [Edited to Add: I'd forgotten that the survey itself did not collect this data. Gender and role orientation were not collected, so some of the crosstabs I'd most like to see cannot be done. The answers we do have, however, cry out for a much more detailed victim report survey on consent violations.] My prediction is that if it becomes available, a crude m/f count for these questions will break down a little closer to equal than rape in the general US population, where victims are about 91% women.
There is a lot more to say, but I don’t want to get too deeply into this because first, I think the point just needs to sink in. The best data we have shows that a third of kinksters have experienced a consent violation, 30% of kinksters have had their negotiated limits violated and 15% have their safeword ignored. This is much worse than any reasonable person should have anticipated coming out of this survey. It is a crisis. I think this demonstrates empirically that the biggest problem facing kinky people today is consent violations and everything else is less important. I’ve said that before, in reference to things like legal reform projects, and I think the data backs me up.
Edward Bagley, who lured a mentally disabled sixteen year old girl in foster care into living with him, kept her for seven years, tortured her in ways that even the most serious masochists think carefully before undertaking, and pimped her out to men who contacted him over the internet, has pleaded guilty about a month before his trial was to start. Media reports indicate a twenty year sentence. Law enforcement became involved when the woman had a heart attack after being both suffocated and electrically tortured.
I can’t say it comes as much of a surprise. His wife changed her plea to guilty in December, and with her testimony he could not hope to refute the allegation that the girl was underage when he took her in and began grooming her, and any chance he had of getting the jury to buy an argument that what he did was consensual pretty much evaporated with his wife’s agreement to testify against him. I don’t have time for a postmortem post now, though I may make time to write one later. When the case first hit the news I wrote a post about BDSM ethics called Not What We Do, and I’ve given periodic updates since. Most of those were case news, and are moot points now, but a few evidentiary issues in the pre-trial phase are of continuing relevance to the intersection of BDSM and criminal law.
Dear Good Men Project:
You’ve reached out to me both privately and publicly to ask to republish my post Meet The Predators. I am very surprised by this, for reasons I will explain below. But I’ll cut the the chase: I am not going to give you permission to republish that or any of my work. What follows is an explanation of my reasons.
I don’t trust your good faith.
When I say “your good faith”, I realize that Good Men Project is not one person, and collective intent is something of a fiction. I have a limited ability to say who thinks what, as I don’t know any of the GMP editors personally. But I can tell you what I’ve observed and why I have my doubts.
The first reason I have my doubts about Good Men Project’s good faith is because you didn’t just discover Meet The Predators. Tom Matlack didn’t just happen across it one day. While my readership is hardly large, Meet The Predators isn’t an obscure post. It has been covered by Jezebel, Amanda Hess’s widely read Washington City Paper column The Sexist, and Feministe. It is the Yes Means Yes Blog’s most-viewed post, and on a daily basis whenever traffic for new items falls off, it pops right to the top of the statcounter again because other people keep linking to it as an important resource.
The reason it’s an important resource is not my writing. I have plenty of other posts up. The reason that Meet The Predators is an important resource is because it discusses two large (n=1000+ in each) and important research papers that studied undetected rapists in two different populations of young men. Almost all prior research on rapists is of what one might call a “clinical sample”, those who have been identified either because they’ve been caught or, more rarely, sought help on their own. There are large biases with most clinical samples, for reasons that ought to be obvious. The research I discuss in that post is virtually alone in studying rapists “in the wild” as it were, those who are not incarcerated or in treatment or both.
So how does Good Men Project know about this post and the research it popularizes? Because your readers and your critics told you about it in response to the two posts that got you folks in so much trouble. You know and I know that the two articles — Alyssa Royse’s about her friend the rapists who is a nice guy, and the rapist’s self-justification about partying and raping and not stopping — became a huge issue. You know that we know because we wrote about it here on Yes Means Yes. First I wrote something. Then Jaclyn wrote something. Then after the dust settled I made time to write something else, because I thought it was important enough to revisit. And Feministe, which was Good Men Project’s primary interlocutor in the whole kerfluffle, republished one of my posts. It’s not like you could have missed it. People pointed out Meet The Predators because it undermined the arguments in the Royse post and the rapist’s. People told you it proved you wrong. If GMP was seriously interested in what Meet The Predators said and what that research showed, that would have been a really opportune time to say, “hey, there’s a major view to the contrary of the things we just published that we’re being criticized for! Wow, hey readers, look at this very different view!”
Which brings me to the next reason I can’t put a lot of faith in your good faith. The actual response to readers pointing out the Lisak and McWhorter research in the Meet The Predators post was to try to discredit it.
This is where intent isn’t unitary. I know for certain that some of the GMP folks are fans of the Yes Means Yes Blog, which at this point effectively means of me and Jaclyn. I know because some of you have told me. Others, however, have made it really clear that they have an axe to grind. Joanna Schroeder ran with some criticisms of Meet The Predators that I thought were really poorly thought out, and I addressed them directly and debunked the would-be debunking. Joanna claimed to be acting in good faith and eschewed the personal attacks on GMP’s critics that some others made, and I hope she’s had time to think about it and realizes that her math doesn’t work and what Lisak says, and what I say about Lisak, are correct. But Joanna isn’t alone, and Alyssa Royse, who authored the first of the two infamous GMP articles, is a whole different ball of wax.
There have always been writers, including women, who see feminists as the enemy. For women in particular, there’s a space for a writer to sort of say, “I’m not like those feminists, I side with the guys.” That’s Katie Roiphe’s whole insipid career. Camille Paglia derives all of her public notoriety from saying deliberately outrageous things to piss off feminists and elicit cheers from antifeminists. It’s not really a new thing. Perhaps for some folks, it’s a pure business model, while with others it really appears to be driven by personal animus, a desire to “break down” feminists who they are … yeah, I’ll say it, jealous of. Royse made it pretty clear on her public facebook page that she had an axe to grind with “brand mane [sic]” feminists like us at Yes Means Yes and like Jill at Feministe, and wanted to “threaten their supremacy and the notions that they have built their fame on.” This can’t be news to you. We did a post on it.
I never really feel comfortable doing business with someone if they can’t be up front about their business model, and that applies to activism as well as money. Sort of sidling up to me as though, oh, gee, you just found a post smacks of trying to con me. It would be a lot easier to take this all seriously if you had written something like “in all the heated exchanges in December people kept referencing Meet The Predators, and now that we have some editorial distance from it we have decided that it adds important perspective, and we would like to publish it to continue developing the conversation.” That would have been a pretty transparent way to handle it. Pretending that December didn’t happen and you just stubbed your toe on this 2009 post and noticed that it was interesting? Not so much transparent.
If You Realize You Messed Up, Say So
The whole thing looks like an attempt at a secret do-over, like that whole “my friend the rapist is so nice” thing was a mistake made in the blurry night after the holiday party and you’re trying to be on your best behavior without apologizing to anyone for what you said. That’s not going to work, because when you try to just gloss over your past your critics get very invested in making sure everyone remembers that you never apologized or took responsibility. Whether it’s stepping on someone’s toe or wrecking someone’s life, when you realize you were wrong you start with “I’m sorry.”
That’s just the opener. There’s a saying that I love and often repeat, the source of which I don’t know: “An apology is a promise to change.” Jill already gave you an indication of what change would look like. She wrote : “replace Matlack, ban MRAs, don’t publish pieces by admitted serial rapists.” Let’s take these in reverse order.
Don’t publish pieces by admitted serial rapists. Actually, Jill and others were more specific in other places. Don’t publish pieces by unrepentant rapists. If a guy is a rapist, and isn’t sorry he’s a rapist, he doesn’t have any incentive to tell you how to stop rapists from raping. If you want to find out what rapists think and use it to make them stop, either ask the ones who have committed to changing if you can find any, or goad, schmooze and trick the active ones into telling you what they really think, which is which is basically what Lisak and McWhorter did by not using the word “rape.” But don’t give a guy who has raped and isn’t really sorry about it and doesn’t intend to stop a podium to shoot off his mouth and make the culture even more toxic. You really should have realized that before the first time, but if you don’t after the first time then there’s kind of no talking to you.
It’s not just a handful of obstreperous feminist bloggers who think that there ought to be standards for covering rape. For guidance from folks completely uninvolved in the whole GMP Rape Faceplant Of Ought-Twelve, I direct you to the Chicago Taskforce On Violence Against Girls and Young Women. They have a media toolkit that runs 45 pages.
Ban MRAs. Good Men Project started out recruiting some high-profile feminist talent. They left. Then you recruited replacements, who left. Then you recruited replacements for the replacements. Who left. Why do they keep leaving? Some cited the two posts, some cited essentialist things Matlack said, but the strongest recurring theme has been that it’s impossible to have a reasonable conversation in the comments at GMP because the conversations are dominated by a bunch of guys who are deeply and implacably resistant to anything feminist and dug into complaining about how hard guys have it. The truth is that the marketplace of ideas is not really any more perfect than other markets, and it can be overwhelmed by garbage, with a dedicated group shouting down and crowding out the better ideas. If you let those elements that think feminists are nasty buzzkills control the conversation, those are the readers you’ll keep and writers who want that audience are the only ones you’ll attract.
Finally, look, I just think Matlack has to go. He is personally thin-skinned. His overreaction to some pretty mild criticism led to an earlier round of feminists-vs-GMP. After this one, he published his thoughts, and thoughts were adolescent nonsense and self-aggrandizement. Some of the editorial issues with GMP – not getting privilege, letting the folks with the biggest set of entitlement issues control the terms of discourse, commitment to personal narrative at the expense of structural analysis — are likely his personal limitations writ large on the site’s personality. He’s not someone who can lead the organization forward in any direction except being dismissed by an ever-increasing number of readers.
You may be surprised because I have never refused a republication request before, and I’m saying no to GMP. You may feel attacked because I’m putting my criticisms in public, at length. Feel whatever you’re going to feel, but most of all, think. When people tell you you’re messing up, even if they are not people who you like or trust, sometimes rejecting what they tell you out-of-hand isn’t the best response. Sometimes the best response is to do the hard work of looking where you’re headed and where you want to go and recognizing that you’ve veered off-course. There’s usually a way back.
It’s not an app. It’s really just a piece of script that a hacktivist whipped up, but what it will do is install a warning from a database over the top of a Fetlife profile.
I’ve written before about the role of Fetlife, the Borg of online BDSM, and its rule against naming names of people who violate consent. There has been no meaningful movement from Fetlife on this front.
Hacktivist and kinky person and all-around troublemaker Maymay decided on a DIY solution. He created the Fetlife Alleged Abusers Database Engine. It has been around for a few months, but he has just updated and re-released it.
I’ll stop here to note that Maymay is one of the most polarizing figures I know, and I’m not exactly Mr. Agreeable myself. Maymay is so polarizing, intransigent and infuriating that people I like and respect can’t even say his name without a string of expletives, and call him things like “a bag of mashed assholes.” Hate Maymay? Get in line. But he gets passionately angry about abuse and he won’t just sit around; he does things about it.
[I missed something this August and Fall when I was too busy with other things to blog. Maggie Mayhem, Maymay's ex, called him out not just for his approach as an activist, where I have a high tolerance for belligerence between activists, but for personal behavior. Making your ex feel threatened and stalked is fucked up.]
The face of the FAADE is a front-end that Maymay wants people to install. But the heart is the database itself, which Maymay also makes available for download without the front-end. That database allows identified or anonymous reporting of allegations of consent violation, with a severity level, a description, date and location. The information is, by design, unverifiable from the database itself. The database can’t tell you what’s true, only what some anonymous person says. And nothing inherently follows from being named in it. No judge bangs a gavel, Fetlife doesn’t delete accounts, no lightning bolt flies down from on high to smite those accused. It’s just … information. If you know what’s been said, you can ask around on your own, and you know what you should be asking about.
You might expect that people would spam the database to make it useless. There are many obvious griefing entries, just junk filled in with silly descriptions. But so what? In fact, sometimes, the patterns of those entries tell a story themselves. Someone named a British kinkster, and the response over the next two days was a flood of obvious griefer traffic, many of the reports made by people who identified themselves and were in fact friends of the guy identified as having violated consent. This is the community response to survivors’ stories, captured in real time, the support for the accused and pressure to shut down disclosure. That swarm had one other nugget in it, though: another report that the accused had violated someone’s consent.
And maybe any particular allegation there isn’t true. But how can someone evaluate its truth if they don’t know what has been said? In the Cycle of Silencing, if the allegation gets ignored and shut down until the accuser goes away in disgust, then by the time there’s a next accuser many people won’t even remember the first, and the pattern that is key to figuring out what really happened will be lost.